The Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe

Many of those who read Robinson Crusoe when it was first published in 1719 may well have been inclined to understand as a "true" story. Certainly Defoe defended it in these terms in his Serious Reflections during the Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1720) and the fourth printing of the novel included a map of the world with Crusoe's journey outlined upon it. This map was almost identical to that published in Woodes Rogers' A Cruising Voyage around the World (1712) which was a major source for information on Alexander Selkirk (the original for Crusoe). Defoe thus implied a veridical relation between his own text and that of Rogers, and he also provided accurate and plausible latitude and longitude for maritime waypoints, and even for storms, thus supporting his fiction with the signs of a scientific discourse with which his readers were only just becoming familiar and which, given Newton's recent work and in 1715 the announcement of a government prize for a way of accurately determining longitude, must have given the novel an air of "science fiction", or of cutting-edge understanding.

The adventures of Robinson Crusoe involve eight voyages in all. The first voyage, set in 1652, takes the adventurous twenty-year old Robinson from his home in York to Great Yarmouth, and then to London. The second voyage takes him on a trading voyage from London to Guinea on the west coast of Africa. The third voyage is similar in intent, but Robinson is captured by Moorish pirates and held as a slave in Sallee (Rabat). Escaping from the Moors in 1654, Crusoe and Xury head southwards along the African coast until they are picked up by a Portuguese trader who takes them to Brazil where Cruose is able to set up a plantation thanks to the money paid him by the honest Portguese for his boat and other goods. After four years, in 1659 Crusoe is persuaded by the plantation owners to lead a trading voyage back to Guinea to buy slaves, but two storms throw his boat off course and he is finally wrecked on his imaginary island south-east of Trinidad. There he spends 28 years until rescued by another trader who takes him back to England (his sixth voyage)in 1688. The seventh voyage, in 1689, takes Crusoe to Lisbon, with the aim of travelling back to Brazil to see to his plantation, but his old friend the Portuguese captain conducts all his transactions for him by mail, so Crusoe is able to cash in his considerable resources without crossing the Atlantic. He then returns to London. Finally, in 1694, Crusoe is encouraged to accompany a nephew on another trading voyage, this time to the East Indies. En route, they call in at his old island and the novel ends with a report of how well the Spaniards he left behind on "his island" have fared in the intervening years.